As you make the transition from beginning lifter to the more seasoned bodybuilder, you’ll notice that things don’t always work like they used to. Often, despite your best efforts in the gym, you’ll notice that nothing seems to be happening anymore. What’s the deal? The answer can be summed up in one simple word: variation.
Most people tend to fall into one specific way of training early on, and then rarely break the pattern as the years pass. As more time elapses, a “one-dimensional” system will bring about progressively diminishing returns as far as hypertrophy is concerned. The human body is an incredibly adaptable machine, and thus will quickly cease to respond to stimuli that it is exposed to time and again.
So let’s look at a few ways you can vary your program to kick-start your strength and muscle gains.
When you train with sets in the lower (4-7), medium (8-11), high (12-15) and very high (16+) rep range, unique motor unit pools are brought into play, and different muscle fibers are affected. For maximum development, it’s best to vary your rep scheme every few weeks, or even try hitting each of these ranges within the same workout.
If you generally rest 2-3 minutes between sets, try cutting your rest period to a minute or less for a while and experience how much more intense your workouts feel. On the other hand, if you tend to move very quickly from set to set, then try slowing down your pace and enjoy how much more weight you are able to move.
One of the biggest mistakes trainees make is moving weights too quickly through the range of motion. While “speed reps” do have their place at times, especially when looking to increase power, it is far better to slow your reps down and keep the muscle under tension for longer periods. Especially important is controlling the negative portion of each rep. Take a good three to five seconds to lower the weight, and you’ll notice a world of difference.
It’s very easy to get stuck utilizing the same exercises over and over in your program, as we are all creatures of habit. But when it comes to bodybuilding, this is not the best strategy for continued muscle growth. When your CNS (central nervous system) gets overly “acquainted” with a movement, fewer muscle fibers are forced to fire to move the weight from point A to B. Make sure to regularly cycle certain exercises in and out of your program to keep your body responding optimally to your training.
If you are working with limited equipment, then changing exercises may not be an option—but what you can do is keep your mind, muscles and nervous system “guessing” by constantly switching up the order of your movements. If you always start your workouts with a compound lift, try instead leading off with an isolation movement. If you generally train your anterior delts first on shoulder day, then try hitting lateral or posterior delts first and the anterior delts at the end of the routine. There are many ways to mix things up and make the same old program feel totally different.
Perhaps your body has become stagnant because you need to up the intensity for a few weeks and shock your muscles into growth. Try throwing in some “beyond failure” techniques like forced reps, drop sets, partials or rest-pause into your workouts. Instead of always doing straight sets, wreak some havoc on your body with supersets, tri-sets, or even giant sets. You can even try altering how you do your actual reps on some sets. I personally love 1 and ½ reps, which is performing a ½ rep in between each full rep.
Have you been training chest and biceps together for years now? Have you always hit quads and hams on the same day? Sometimes all it takes to kickstart new gains is to alter your split by combining different sets of muscle groups on each training day. In fact, I recommend altering your split every eight weeks or so, and basing how you group muscles (as well as on which days) by prioritizing body parts that are lagging behind others.
BY ERIC BROSER